By Sebastian Leuzinger
Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.
If you have a question you'd like an expert to answer, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
If carbon dioxide levels were to double, how much increase in plant growth would this cause? How much of the world's deserts would disappear due to plants' increased drought tolerance in a high carbon dioxide environment?
Compared to pre-industrial levels, the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO₂) in the atmosphere will have doubled in about 20 to 30 years, depending on how much CO₂ we emit over the coming years. More CO₂ generally leads to higher rates of photosynthesis and less water consumption in plants.
At first sight, it seems more CO₂ can only be beneficial to plants, but things are a lot more complex than that.
The Global Carbon Budget<p>Of the almost 10 billion tonnes (gigatonnes, or Gt) of carbon we emit every year through the burning of fossil fuels, only about half accumulates in the atmosphere. Around a quarter ends up in the ocean (about 2.4 Gt), and the remainder (about 3 Gt) is thought to be <a href="https://www.earth-syst-sci-data.net/10/2141/2018/" target="_blank">taken up by terrestrial plants</a>.</p><p>While the ocean and the atmospheric sinks are relatively easy to quantify, the terrestrial sink isn't. In fact, the 3 Gt can be thought of more as an unaccounted residual. Ultimately, the emitted carbon needs to go somewhere, and if it isn't the ocean or the atmosphere, it must be the land.</p><p>So yes, the terrestrial system takes up a substantial proportion of the carbon we emit, but the attribution of this sink to elevated levels of CO₂ is difficult. This is because many other factors may contribute to the land carbon sink: rising temperature, increased use of fertilisers and atmospheric nitrogen deposition, changed land management (including land abandonment), and changes in species composition.</p><p><a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-03818-2" target="_blank">Current estimates</a> assign about a quarter of this land sink to elevated levels of CO₂, but estimates are very uncertain.</p><p>In summary, rising CO₂ leads to faster plant growth - sometimes. And this increased growth only partly contributes to sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. The important questions are how long this carbon is locked away from the atmosphere, and how much longer the <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-017-0274-8" target="_blank">currently observed land sink will continue</a>.</p>
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By James Renwick
Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.
If you have a question you'd like an expert to answer, please send it to email@example.com
Earth had several periods of high carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and high temperatures over the last several million years. Can you explain what caused these periods, given that there was no burning of fossil fuels or other sources of human created carbon dioxide release during those times?
Burning fossil fuels or vegetation is one way to put carbon dioxide into the air – and it is something we have become very good at. Humans are generating nearly 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year, mostly by burning fossil fuels.
Natural Changes in Carbon Dioxide<p>Every year, carbon dioxide concentrations rise and fall a little as plants grow in spring and summer and die off in the autumn and winter. The timing of this <a href="https://niwa.co.nz/atmosphere/our-data/trace-gas-plots/carbon-dioxide" target="_blank">seasonal rise and fall</a> is tied to northern hemisphere seasons, as most of the land surface on Earth is there.</p><p>The oceans also play an active role in the carbon cycle, contributing to variations over a few months to slow shifts over centuries. Ocean water takes up carbon dioxide directly in an exchange <a href="https://sos.noaa.gov/datasets/ocean-atmosphere-co2-exchange/" target="_blank">between the air and seawater</a>. Tiny marine plants use carbon dioxide for photosynthesis and many microscopic marine organisms use carbon compounds to make shells. When these marine micro-organisms die and sink to the seafloor, they take the carbon with them.</p><p>Collectively, the biosphere (ecosystems on land and in soils) and the oceans are absorbing about <a href="https://worldoceanreview.com/en/wor-1/ocean-chemistry/co2-reservoir/" target="_blank">half of all human-emitted carbon dioxide</a>, and this slows the rate of climate change. But as the climate continues to change and the oceans warm up further, it is not clear whether the biosphere and oceans will continue absorbing such a large fraction of our emissions. As water warms, it is less able to absorb carbon dioxide, and as the climate changes, many ecosystems become stressed and are less able to photosynthesise carbon dioxide.</p>
Earth’s Deep Climate History<p>On time scales of hundreds of thousands to millions of years, carbon dioxide concentrations in the air have varied hugely, and so has global climate.</p><p>This <a href="https://www.skepticalscience.com/weathering.html" target="_blank">long-term carbon cycle</a> involves the formation and decay of the Earth's surface itself: tectonic plate activity, the build-up and weathering of mountain chains, prolonged volcanic activity, and the emergence of new seafloor at active mid-ocean faults.</p><p>Most of the carbon stored in the Earth's crust is in the form of limestone, created from the carbon-based shells of marine organisms that sank to the ocean floor millions of year ago.</p><p>Carbon dioxide is added to the air when volcanoes erupt, and it is taken out of the air as rocks and mountain ranges weather and wear down. These processes typically take millions of years to add or subtract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.</p>
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Alistair Walsh
Global sea levels will probably rise by even more than currently predicted, scientists warned on Friday.
Mitigation Is 'In Our Hands'<p>"What we do now within a few decades will determine sea-level rise for many centuries, the new analysis shows more clearly than ever before," PIK's Stefan Rahmstorf said. "But this is also good news: when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, we have it in our own hands how much we increase the risks for millions of people on the world's coasts, from Hamburg to Shanghai and from Mumbai to New York.</p><p>The predictions are higher than those currently published by the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/what-is-the-ipcc-and-what-does-it-do/a-50552119" target="_blank">Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)</a>, which has already increased its predictions.</p><p>In September 2019, the UN climate science panel found that <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/ipcc-15-c-degree-report-points-to-high-stakes-of-climate-inaction/a-45791882" target="_blank">unmitigated climate change would lead to a sea level rise</a> of between 0.61 meters and 1.1 meters by 2100. At the time it said the forecast could be conservative due to the speed at which Antarctic ice could melt.</p><p>Friday's report said the increased forecast came from better data and improved understanding of climate processes.</p>
Data for Decision Makers<p>"The complexity of the sea-level rise projections and the sheer volume of relevant scientific publications makes it difficult for policy makers to gain an overview of the state of research," NTU's Benjamin Horton said in a statement.</p><p>"For such an overview, it is therefore useful to ask leading experts what kind of sea-level rise they expect — this gives a broader picture of future scenarios and provides policymakers with the information they need to decide on the necessary measures."</p>
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By Alex Matthews
Every year 150 climate scientists fly far into the wilderness and bore deep into Greenland's largest glacier. Their work is complicated and important. The EastGRIP project is trying to understand how ice streams underneath the glacier are pushing vast amounts of ice into the ocean, and how this contributes to rising sea levels. But this year the drills will be silent. The ice streams will go unmeasured.
Going Without Results<p>The scientists are missing out on a lot. They were hoping to complete the 2,660-meter (8,727-feet) hole they have been drilling for the past five years, and finally access the ice streams they've been hunting for.</p><p>"We were actually hoping to reach the bedrock this year, which is super exciting, as we are down where the ice stream flow really is important," explains Dorthe Dahl-Jensen, Professor of Ice, Climate and Earth at the University of Copenhagen and chairperson for EastGRIP's steering committee.</p><p>"How does this ice actually flow? That really is what we have been waiting for for five years, what was going to happen this year. All of that has now been put back. We will have to live without the results." </p>
Damaged Equipment<p>When the team returns next year, it's data and understanding they will have lost. Another year of snow will have buried trenches and covered equipment, meaning they will spend more time repairing and replacing buildings and hardware. </p><p>It's a problem faced by Dr Ken Mankoff and the team he works with at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland. They are examining the health of the ice sheets in Greenland and monitoring snowfall. They also have monitoring equipment in the field that could fail if they cannot reach it, leaving gaps in data that has been collected for decades. </p><p>"In the worst-case scenario there will be a 12-month gap," he says. "Some of that data can be filled in with satellites and remote sensing, other parts are unique and will be lost."</p>
Junior Scientists' Careers Affected<p>Dahl-Jensen and Mankoff will have to wait until they can return to their respective sites and hope the loss of data won't upset their research too much. For now, both say they are happier remaining at home and keeping themselves, their teams and everyone else they would otherwise encounter safe.</p><p>But for younger scientists, those working on research with short-term funding, and those working towards academic qualifications on a timescale, the lack of results is a much bigger problem. The <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/german-research-vessel-begins-yearlong-drift-through-arctic-ocean/a-50706787" target="_blank">next generation of climate scientists will be affected</a>. </p><p>"There are junior colleagues, and this will have a significant impact on their career if they cannot get the data for the project that they need to do their work," says Mankoff. "My attitude will not be shared by everybody else, and I doubt it is."</p>
Most Productive Time of the Year<p>Someone who can relate is Dr Joran Moen, director of the University Center in Svalbard (UCIS) in Norway, the world's northernmost higher education institution. The school was shutdown and fieldwork cancelled, following orders from the Norwegian government. Around 70 students in Svalbard alone will be unable to complete fieldwork contributing to masters degrees or PhDs.</p><p>"The transition from March to June is a very important time for operations and for monitoring climate change in the area," he says. "We are in a part of the Arctic with a very dramatic change due to the temperature rapidly changing. It's a very good place to be to see how mankind can influence the climate and the effects of it."</p><p>"As for data gaps, the entire international community on Svalbard will have that problem, and of course that will also impact on our research. For students to be missing something like this in their research is a problem." </p>
Waiting Game<p>Moen and the UCIS have made provisions for as much education as possible to continue. Classes have moved online and small, risk-free research trips are still being planned. Dahl-Jensen and Mankoff are waiting to see when they can reach their equipment, and planning how much extra work they may have to do in the snow.</p><p>Climate science is also waiting, to see when it will continue, and just how vital the missing data will be. </p>
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Methane levels in the atmosphere experienced a dramatic rise in 2019, preliminary data released Sunday shows.
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By Michael Halpern
Now, for some good news: the First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday that UCS's lawsuit challenging the politicization of EPA science advisory committees may move forward. UCS sued the agency over a new directive that prohibits EPA grant-funded scientists from serving on these committees.
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Approximately 210,000 gallons of crude oil leaked out of a 16-inch pipeline just south of Staples, MN, in Dec. 2009. MN Pollution Control Agency / CC BY-NC 2.0
By Tara Lohan
The New York Times keeps a running list of all the environmental regulations that the Trump administration has worked to trash since taking office more than three years ago.
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Across much of the U.S., a warming climate has advanced the arrival of spring. This year is no exception. In parts of the Southeast, spring has arrived weeks earlier than normal and may turn out to be the warmest spring on record.
Lilies, Blueberries, Birds and More … All Sped Up<p>Records managed by the USA National Phenology Network and other organizations prove that spring has accelerated over the long term. For example, the common yellow trout lily <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11258-019-00956-7" target="_blank">blooms nearly a week earlier</a> in the Appalachian Mountain region than it did 100 years ago. Blueberries in Massachusetts <a href="https://www.wbur.org/news/2017/07/12/studying-climate-change-walden-pond" target="_blank">flower three to four weeks earlier</a> than in the mid-1800s. And over a recent 12-year period, over half of 48 migratory bird species studied <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-02045-z" target="_blank">arrived at their breeding grounds up to nine days earlier</a> than previously.</p><p>Warmer spring temperatures have also led <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2656.12452" target="_blank">beetles, moths</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.12920" target="_blank">butterflies</a> to emerge earlier than in recent years. Similarly, hibernating species like <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/srep11580" target="_blank">frogs</a> and <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/04/150413-utah-bears-hibernation-warm-winter-climate-science/" target="_blank">bears</a> emerge from hibernation earlier in warm springs.</p><p>All species don't respond to warming the same way. When species that depend on one another — such as pollinating insects and plants seeking pollination - don't respond similarly to changing conditions, populations suffer.</p><p>In Japan, the spring-flowering ephemeral <em>Corydalis ambigua</em> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1890/12-2003.1" target="_blank">produces fewer seeds</a> than in previous decades because it now flowers earlier than when bumblebees, its primary pollinators, are active. Similarly, populations of pied flycatchers – long-distance migrating birds that still arrive at their breeding grounds at the regular time – are <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nature04539" target="_blank">declining steeply</a>, because populations of caterpillars that the flycatchers eat now peak prior to the birds' arrival.</p>
Warmth Followed by Frost Can Kill<p>Earlier springs can devastate valuable farm crops. Cherry, peach, pear, apple and plum trees blossom during early warm spells. Subsequent frost can kill the blooms, which means the trees will not produce fruit.</p><p>In March 2012, Michigan cherry blossoms opened early after temperatures climbed into the 80s. Then at least 15 frosts from late March through May <a href="https://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/science-july-dec12-michigancherry_08-15" target="_blank">destroyed 90% of the crop</a>, causing US$200 million in damages. And in 2017, after Georgia peach trees flowered during an extremely early warm spell, frost killed <a href="https://www.ajc.com/news/state--regional-govt--politics/georgia-peach-crop-decimated-after-warm-winter/3SFVEukXWLLJB0zSox9i4M/" target="_blank">up to 80% of the crop</a>.</p><p>Early springs also affect ornamental plants and gardens. They hasten <a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0212010" target="_blank">allergy symptoms</a> and the appearance of <a href="http://www.totallandscapecare.com/green-industry-news/phenology-maps/" target="_blank">turf pests</a>. Popular species like tulips open up sooner than they used to a decade or more ago. In recent years, tulips have bloomed before "tulip time" festivals in <a href="https://whotv.com/2019/04/26/tulips-in-bloom-in-pella-ahead-of-annual-celebrations/" target="_blank">Iowa</a>, <a href="https://www.oregonlive.com/travel/2016/02/tulip_festival_expected_to_blo.html" target="_blank">Oregon</a> and <a href="https://www.michiganradio.org/post/blossoms-ahead-schedule-holland-s-tulip-time-festival" target="_blank">Michigan</a>.</p><p>Cherry trees around Washington D.C.'s Tidal Basin bloom at <a href="https://www.nps.gov/subjects/cherryblossom/bloom-watch.htm" target="_blank">dramatically different times from year to year</a>. They are expected to bloom <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0027439" target="_blank">weeks in advance</a> of the National Cherry Blossom Festival in the coming decades.</p>
Springtime Shifts by Region<p>The start of spring isn't advancing at the same rate across the U.S. In <a href="https://doi.org/10.1029/2019GL085251" target="_blank">a recent study</a> with <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=A74aBb8AAAAJ&hl=en&oi=ao" target="_blank">climatologist Michael Crimmins</a>, I evaluated changes in the arrival of springtime warmth over the past 70 years.</p><p>We found that in the Northeast, warmth associated with the leading edge of springtime activity has advanced by about six days over the past 70 years. In the Southwest, the advancement has been approximately 19 days. Spring is also arriving significantly earlier in the Southern Rockies and the Pacific Northwest. In contrast, in the Southeast the timing of spring has changed little.</p>
How Much Earlier Is Spring?<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjg0NDMwOC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDA0NTgyNn0.88lEnl9pHbNcRYbHuAFuzxgx2bOheQltbGjXfZNUUAY/img.png?width=980" id="de124" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="18e75bfd42315b547caaddddf4bac7bf" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Help Scientists Document Change<p>While numerous studies have documented clear changes in the timing of activity in certain plants and animals, scientists have little to no information on the cycles of most of the millions of species on Earth. Nor do they know the consequences of such changes yet.</p><p>One important way to fill knowledge gaps is documenting what's happening on the ground. The USA National Phenology Network runs a program called <a href="http://www.naturesnotebook.org/" target="_blank">Nature's Notebook</a> suited for people of nearly all ages and skill levels to track seasonal activity in plants and animals. Since the program's inception in 2009, participants have contributed more than 20 million records.</p><p>These data have been used in over <a href="https://www.usanpn.org/publications" target="_blank">80 studies</a>, and we are looking for more observations from the public that can help scientists understand what causes nature's timing to change, and what the consequences are. We welcome new volunteers who can help us unravel these mysteries.</p>
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Longtime Climate Science Foe David Schnare Uses 'Scare Tactics' to Bash Transportation Climate Initiative for Koch-Tied Think Tank
Opponents of a regional proposal to curb transportation sector emissions in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic are using a number of deceptive tactics to attack and criticize the Transportation and Climate Initiative. Groups tied to the oil industry have pointed to misleading studies, deployed questionable public opinion polling and circulated an open letter in opposition.
David Schnare's Long History Attacking Climate Science and Defending Fossil Fuel Interests<p>Schnare is currently the Director of the Center for Environmental Stewardship at the Thomas Jefferson Institute, and both he and <span style="background-color: initial;">TJI</span> are part of a larger network linked with fossil fuel interests that work against climate and environmental protection policies.</p><p>The Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy is a member of the <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/state-policy-network" target="_blank">State Policy Network</a>, a Koch-backed web of right-wing think tanks promoting climate science denial and other policy positions that benefit corporate donors. The Jefferson Institute has received funding from <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/donors-capital-fund" target="_blank">Donors Capital Fund</a> ($214,450) and Donors Trust ($5,000), anonymous funding vehicles supporting a number of organizations that promote conservative and free enterprise interests. As DeSmog has <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/donors-capital-fund" target="_blank">noted</a>, "the groups and projects given grants from DCF and DT are among the most active in questioning the link between fossil fuel emissions and climate change and blocking attempts to legislate against greenhouse gas emissions." The Jefferson Institute is one such group, and was called out by name by <a href="https://www.whitehouse.senate.gov/news/release/senators-call-out-web-of-denial-blocking-action-on-climate-change" target="_blank">Senate Democrats in 2016 in a series of speeches denouncing climate change denial</a> from 32 organizations with links to fossil-fuel interests. </p><p>Schnare is a former EPA scientist and attorney and initially was a member of President Trump's EPA transition team. He is affiliated with climate denial groups like the <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/heartland-institute" target="_blank">Heartland Institute</a>, and was a speaker at the 2017 Heartland Institute "America First Energy Conference," where he <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXtFGeo1lJQ&feature=youtu.be" target="_blank">discussed</a> how to challenge the EPA's 2009 endangerment finding that serves as the basis for regulating greenhouse gas emissions.</p><p>Schnare has a history of harassing climate scientists by suing universities to get access to the scientists' emails. In 2011, he unsuccessfully sued the University of Virginia to try to obtain Michael Mann's emails. As DeSmog previously reported, Schnare was <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/2018/11/27/david-schnare-forced-to-disgorge-dark-money-from-fmelc-piggy-bank" target="_blank">forced to pay out $630,000 from a dark money group</a> he co-founded with <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/chris-horner" target="_blank">Christopher Horner</a>, the <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/free-market-environmental-law-clinic" target="_blank">Free Market Environmental Law Clinic</a>. The payout resulted from a heated legal dispute in which Schnare is alleged to have used FMELC as his personal piggy bank. </p>
Schnare's Reports Use Disinformation as “Scare Tactics”<p>Given this background, it is not surprising that Schnare and the Thomas Jefferson Institute are railing against the proposed Transportation and Climate Initiative. <span style="background-color: initial;">TJI</span> and Schnare have <a href="https://www.thomasjeffersoninst.org/" target="_blank">published</a> several misleading analyses of the program claiming it is a "carbon car tax" and would be "all pain and no gain," claims that are simply untrue. The latest legal analysis is a continuation of Schnare making these unfounded arguments. For example, Schnare's claim that <span style="background-color: initial;">TCI</span> "proposes rationing gasoline and diesel fuel sales" is blatantly false, as sources familiar with the program told DeSmog.</p><p>"This is a pollution reduction program," said Bruce Ho, senior advocate in the climate and clean energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "The type of policy [Schnare and TJI] are describing in their paper is not the policy that states are actually proposing." </p><p>"The oil industry and its allies are going heavy on the scare tactics right now," added Morgan Butler, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. "TCI is not being designed to ration gas, but rather to help move us beyond it by investing revenues from the program in making cleaner and healthier transportation options more available to everyone." </p><p>Schnare's claim that Virginia's governor cannot unilaterally join TCI is also not accurate. As Kresowik explained, the governor does have authority to sign on to an agreement or memorandum of understanding (MOU), and then the legislature would have to act to implement the program in the state. </p><p>"The governor can absolutely sign the memorandum of understanding and move forward with the other states," Kresowik said. </p><p>"The hand waving in this paper that Virginia is doing something that's not allowed is just wrong," added Ho. "Neither Virginia nor any other TCI jurisdiction has proposed skirting those legal requirements. They've been very upfront that they are going to go through all of the legally required processes within states." </p><p>Ho said that Schnare's entire analysis is disingenuous, as it mischaracterizes what the TCI program is actually proposing. "It's a clear case of fear-mongering, setting up a straw man argument that is just not reflective of reality," he said. </p><p>Schnare's case against TCI runs counter to even oil giant BP's recent endorsement of the program. BP America Chairman and President Susain Dio, in a <a href="https://www.richmond.com/opinion/columnists/susan-dio-column-gov-northam-and-general-assembly-leaders-can/article_c7b4cbf5-0cd1-5ee0-a0bf-3c6ff6022579.html" target="_blank">piece published last week</a> in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, urged Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and the General Assembly to move forward with both TCI and RGGI. "While a national carbon pricing program would be the gold standard, state and regional plans can play a critical role now," Dio writes. "And we can't wait." BP's support of TCI falls inline with the company's <a href="https://www.desmog.co.uk/2020/02/14/new-bp-ceo-ends-greenwashing-ad-campaign" target="_blank">recent announcement that it will no longer lobby against policies that regulate or limit carbon pollution</a>. Though the sincerity of BP's statements are not yet clear, the company's surprise public support of TCI indirectly rebuts and counters both pieces of Schnare's flawed analysis. </p>
By Andy Rowell
Five years ago, the leading climate denial organization in the UK, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), published a pamphlet entitled: Carbon Dioxide, the good news.
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Some backcountry skiers and snowboarders are not just hitting the slopes. They're measuring how deep the snow is and sending the data to climate scientists.
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